Shanghai warned children and the elderly to stay indoors as smog enveloped China’s commercial hub, sending levels of the worst pollutants surging to more than 15 times World Health Organization guidelines.
The level of PM2.5 pollutants reached 395.7 micrograms per cubic meter at 3 p.m., the city’s environmental monitoring center said. The WHO recommends exposure of no more than 25 over a 24-hour period for particles smaller than 2.5 microns in diameter that are more dangerous than other particulate matter.
“Pollutants are likely to move from the north to the Yangtze Delta region because of atmospheric circulation,” Li Shuo, a Beijing-based policy officer at Greenpeace, said by phone today. The Yangtze Delta comprises Shanghai and the neighboring provinces of Jiangsu and Zhejiang.
China’s cabinet, the State Council, listed worsening pollution as among the looming challenges the country faces in a report to the legislature, the official Xinhua News Agency reported yesterday. Heavy smog may undermine plans for Shanghai, often considered to be cleaner than other Chinese cities, to attract foreign investment and multinational firms, as the city implements a free-trade zone as part of a broader goal to become a global financial and logistics center by 2020.
A “yellow” haze alert, the third lowest of a four-tier warning system, has been in place since this morning, urging drivers to be cautious and people with respiratory illnesses to wear masks when going outside, the Shanghai government’s microblog said. The air quality index was 263, signaling “heavy pollution,” the second worst of six levels, the center said.
Chinese coal producers plunged in Shanghai trading, dragging down the nation’s benchmark stock index. Yanzhou Coal Mining Co. dropped 3.1 percent, while China Shenhua Energy Co. fell 1.6 percent. The Shanghai Composite Index slid 1.6 percent to close at 2,073.1, the lowest level in four months.
Shanghai had record levels of smog earlier this month, forcing flight cancellations and prompting the government to order vehicles off the road. The pollution index surged to a record 482 on Dec. 6, reaching the highest “severe” level, according to the China Daily.
The ten worst polluting cities in the third quarter were in northern China, the nation’s environmental protection ministry said. The Yangtze Delta region has heavy industry and coal consumption, Greenpeace’s Li said. Jiangsu and Zhejiang are among the top ten coal consuming provinces, he said, citing Greenpeace data.
In October, the Shanghai government announced a plan to cut 2012 PM2.5 readings by 20 percent by 2017. Outdoor air pollution can cause lung cancer, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a WHO agency said in October, ranking it as a carcinogen for the first time.
About 26 percent of Shanghai’s PM2.5 levels comes from industry, 26 percent from motor vehicles and ships, and 7.3 percent from power generation, an official at the city’s environmental bureau said at a meeting of the standing committee of the municipal People’s Congress today. The meeting was webcast on the government’s web portal.